The Good Egg - A Short Story
I am not a man to believe in such hogwash. Why, I ran Lindy's Tavern for over thirty years and if ever there was a place that should be haunted, that was it. It was a dump when me and Linda bought it and it was still a dump when I signed it over to her in the divorce settlement. But we made some money through the years, enough to buy a house and take an occasional holiday. The clientele were certainly not of high society stock but who cared, their money spent too. I didn't expect The Rendezvous to draw much better but I'd make a living. The place has potential.
"You know this establishment is haunted, don't you?"
"As long as he pays his tab," I smirked, glancing sideways at Charlie. Charlie, so he says, has been a fixture at The Rendezvous for years. The man is eccentric though I usually associate that word with the wealthy which Charlie obviously is not. His black pants, which he always wears, are a tad too short as if the suspenders that hold them up are attempting to pull them over the bleached white shirt. His shoes are spit-shined but worn. No matter what the weather he wears a drab olive cardigan. It would have looked right on my grandfather when the family first immigrated from Italy. No, not a picture of affluence, that Charlie, but a good egg anyway. Eventually I got used to his odd ways and our shared experiences at The Rendezvous made us good friends.
We sure did see some strange things. I would've thought I was losing it a couple of times if Charlie hadn't been there too. One night, after I had convinced the last of my staggering patrons that not another drop of liquor would be poured so they might as well leave, something happened that still gives me the willies. Charlie was waiting for me while I cashed out and locked up, like he always does, perched on his favorite stool sipping cold coffee from the bottom of the pot. It was a comfort to have him there. His level-headed calmness helped me forget about the neighborhood in which The Rendezvous sat. While I swept cigarette butts and trash off the floor we talked about all kinds of things, women and politics taking center stage. He's a good conversationalist, that Charlie. He doesn't talk much himself but he sure can listen.
Well, that night with all the lights out except for the one behind the bar to save on electricity costs, the damndest thing happened. Out of nowhere a bat flew across the room, back and forth until it finally settled itself on the ceiling in the middle. Not so strange, you might say, for a place as old and decrepit as The Rendezvous. It's what happened after me and Charlie were trying to deal with the surprise of the bat that really shook me up. All the lights began to flick on and off, on and off, like someone had switched on a giant strobe light. The cash register drawer was slamming opened and closed as were the liquor cabinets and bathroom doors. The telephone kept ringing and the jukebox started blasting a sad and lonesome country tune at full volume. Now I'm not one to lose my wits about me, no sir, but right then I put my hands over my ears and was just about to scream. Before I allowed myself the indignity, poof, it stopped and went back to the way it was. Except the bat dropped dead to the floor. I looked at Charlie expecting the same shocked paleness on his face that I knew was on mine. But the man had simply remained planted on his stool with an expression as serene as a church angel.
"Now what the blazes do you think just happened here, Charlie?"
"A haunting is great entertainment, don't you think?"
"Hogwash is what I say. Some kind of freak electrical surge is more like it. Hope it doesn't show up on my bill, those thieves."
"I'd say there's a spirit here."
"Gosh darn nonsense you talk when you do. Now let me get rid of this bat."
"I've been coming here long enough to have seen some strange things."
"Too many whiskies would be my guess."
I was right on the money that The Rendezvous has potential. I put in a couple of decent television sets so I could show two different games at the same time. I cleaned out an elderly ex-neighbor's garage in exchange for any old sporting equipment I would happen across in the process. The old geez must have been an all around athlete in his day, or at least his kids were, because I left there with all kinds of stuff. Charlie and me had quite a fuss over where to hang it all in The Rendezvous. A bit of touch-up paint and a few posters of the greats and the result was impressive. There wasn't a sports bar in town could beat the haphazard charm of mine, no sir. Charlie and me stood back and admired our handiwork for a long long time.
Next day when I came in the sight to greet me made me want to cry. Right there in the middle of the room was all our hard work rearranged into a giant pile. Hockey sticks, skis, golf clubs, fishing poles and tennis rackets stuck out at random. Ice skates, boxing gloves, you name it, were stacked like the culprit had attempted some sort of junk sculpture. The tables and chairs had been placed along the walls to make room for this blasphemy. I stood there alone with my mouth open wanting to be angry at someone. I waited for Charlie to come in before trying to put things back in order. His sweat had gone into this too. But Charlie being Charlie wasn't all that disturbed.
"I guess we'll have to do it all again."
I was too disgruntled to bother an answer and busied myself dismantling my junk pile. I guess I grumbled a lot in the process but old Charlie, good egg that he is, took charge of everything. Before I could say last call for alcohol he nailed and hung and strung the whole lot right down to the last gosh darn golf tee. The place looked good again but different.
"Hey Charlie, old boy, looks like we hired a new decorator here."
"You must admit, it is an improvement though."
"Well, I don't know if it's an improvement but I'm too tired to change it back."
So the twice-new Rendezvous Sports Bar stayed the way it was. Now this face lift didn't mean business boomed at first. But in trickles, it seemed, a few new faces and the bar was sometimes more than half-filled. Thankfully there were only one or two stragglers left when things wet berserk again one night. Not the same as the light show of last time, mind you, but equally as mind-boggling. We were just winding down, watching the last quarter of a college basketball game. In comes a bat just like before, as if it served as an introduction to the wonder that followed.
"It seems we're in for another show," Charlie said so matter-of-factly I wanted to strangle him. Turned out there was no time. The furniture in The Rendezvous began to rearrange itself. Chairs pulled away from tables placing themselves at other tables which also moved around. My mix and match decor was mixing and matching right before my very eyes. It was as if the inanimate had come alive for a merry game of musical chairs (and tables). Even the jukebox soared across the room planting itself neatly on the opposite wall. My two late customers made a beeline for the door, dodging the melee as best they could. The bar stools tucked themselves squarely in place as soon as they left. Before I could even react at all it stopped. And the damned bat fell dead to the floor.
Charlie was dabbing at his eyes with a hankie, he so enjoyed the show. I didn't say anything, just went about disposing of the dead vermin. I had to admit there was a certain order to the room, a quiet peacefulness that seemed to make sense.
"So do you still deny this place is haunted?"
"Earthquake," I muttered but even I wasn't convinced. I locked up right away.
Well, life goes on. The weekend was an important one for me. Some old friends from the old place, to my ex-wife's chagrin I'm sure, were coming down on Saturday night to check out The Rendezvous. I bought hot dogs and rolls, made up a spicy batch of chili and made sure there was plenty of cold beer in the house. Charlie and me dug out some dishes from the back room and chilled a couple of dozen mugs. I was in a very festive mood.
They came in Saturday night, my old poker buddies, full of boisterous compliments, back slaps and huge appetites. It was like old times again. We argued about sports and made a small bet or two. The place was full and I really felt positive about my future.
"We did it, Charlie. The Rendezvous is a small-scale success," I said shaking my friend's hand.
"Who are you talking to there?"
Joe, a burly guy who I've known for years came up behind us. He had a funny look on his face and I thought maybe he was drunk.
"This here's Charlie. I couldn't have done all this without him," I said introducing them. Joe put his big arm over my shoulder and led me away to the others. He was shaking his head sadly.
"There's no one there, pal. You're talking to the air. Maybe you've been working too hard."
I turned my head toward Charlie, puzzled. He smiled broadly and offered me a thumbs-up.
"I told you," I heard him say as I walked away.